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ROSEMONT, ILL. – The Big Ten Conference formally announced today the members of the Big Ten Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition, which includes student-athletes, coaches, athletic directors, chancellors, presidents and other members of the Big Ten family representing all 14 member institutions. In addition, the Big Ten Conference formally launched a Voter Registration Initiative that has been in the planning stages since February of 2020.
“The events in our country and around the world during the past few months have strengthened my fundamental belief in our need to develop tangible and actionable efforts in a collective manner and provide viable solutions addressing the issues of hate and racism in our society,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. “We have the distinct opportunity and responsibility through our Coalition to continually encourage, educate and empower our student-athletes as we embrace transparent and much-needed dialogue regarding meaningful issues that have impacted race relations for many years.”
“The Big Ten Conference Voter Registration Initiative is a natural extension of the conversation within the Coalition. An election year provides the opportunity to educate our student-athletes in a non-partisan fashion regarding the importance of exercising their civic right to clearly understand the political process, register to vote, cast a vote during the upcoming election, and provide adequate support to combat voter suppression. We are at an inflection point in our country. Empowering our student-athletes by encouraging them to use their voices illustrates how we can collectively work together to build a better future.”
The Coalition was first announced in an open letter from Commissioner Warren on June 1, 2020 following the death of George Floyd. The goal of the Coalition is to seek tangible ways to actively and constructively combat racism and hate around the world while also empowering student-athletes to express their rights to free speech and peaceful protest.
“I am grateful to have the opportunity to use my platform as a student-athlete to combat hate and racism in our country,” said Savanna Spears, a Coalition member and a junior on the Indiana women’s swimming and diving team. “It is so important that we go out and vote so that all our voices can be heard.”
“I am thankful to have been nominated for such an incredible union,” said Coalition member and Illinois football student-athlete Ra’Von Bonner. “I am an agent of change and will use my platform to create real change in this country. I am very motivated and dedicated to progressing my people, BLACK people.”
The Coalition will leverage, support and complement the extraordinary efforts already taking place across the Big Ten Conference through initiatives on our campuses, as well as through existing conference-wide organizations like the Big Ten Advisory Commission. Established in 1972 in the midst of a period of significant social unrest in our nation, the Advisory Commission will have direct representation on the Coalition.
The Big Ten Conference Voter Registration Initiative is a Conference-wide collaboration that encourages student-athletes to take part in the electoral process. The non-partisan Initiative is coordinated by a Voter Registration Committee that includes representatives from all 14 Big Ten institutions. This initiative was activated in February 2020, and hosts three subcommittees to address: Timeline, Outreach and Rollout; Technology and Data; and Education and Programming.
Monthly educational programming will begin in July and continue through the general election on November 3, 2020. This programming will be designed to inform and educate student-athletes on the importance of civic engagement and how to register to vote and submit a ballot, in person or absentee.
The Voter Registration Committee will also partner with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to develop educational programming, create outreach tools, foster open and honest dialogue with law enforcement and collaborate with other established civic platforms. In partnership with Election Protection, the nation’s largest and longest-running non-partisan, voter protection program, led by the Lawyers’ Committee, the Big Ten Conference will work to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to register, vote and have that vote counted. The Big Ten Conference will encourage use of the Election Protection helpline, 866-OUR-VOTE or 866-687-8683, which is available 365 days a year to support anyone with voting-related questions.
“The right to vote is the most important right in our democracy,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Student-athletes have unique platforms that can be used to educate and activate students all across the country. I am excited to partner with Commissioner Kevin Warren and the Big Ten Conference Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition to help promote civic participation and ensure that the voices of all student voters are heard this election season.”
“I commend Commissioner Warren and the Big Ten Conference for taking action and being part of the solution,” said Coalition member and Maryland football head coach Michael Locksley. “I am honored to be part of this Coalition and look forward to having tough conversations that lead to significant change. Our student-athletes at Maryland have taken it upon themselves to make an impact by not only registering themselves to vote, but also getting out into our community to encourage voter registration and participation on election days. It gives me great pride to see the Big Ten also institute a Voter Registration Initiative that I strongly believe can have a lasting impact.”